Some thoughts on Netflix's Bandersnatch and interactive cinema

Some thoughts on Netflix's Bandersnatch and interactive cinema

I'm curious to hear yours.

I think a lot about interactivity and movies. We're creating one so I've been studying a lot of different narrative techniques

I'm VERY excited about the interactive future of cinema. I just don't think Choose Your Own Adventure, in the way Netflix implemented it, has a real place in this future.
So there's two modes for story, each on the opposite end of interactivity: open-world, and closed-world.

Closed-world storytelling is a traditional feature film. Things don't change. The writer starts and ends the story.

A prototypical closed-world story roughly follows a thesis-antithesis-synthesis structure. It beings with a challenge to a main character, which represents a question the writer is asking about the world. (Does true love exist? Can people work through their differences? Can family difficulties be reconciled?) The reconciliation of the story over time is a statement the writer makes about the world. In its simplest form, this story is a single, beautiful sentence.

A prototypical open-world story is like a video where anything can happen. Perhaps the player can choose their clothing, their friends, and their adventures. There are rules to the game, but the direction of traversal is entirely up to the player. This can be a lot of fun.

But there's a reason why interactivity and storytelling, as displayed above, can't mix past a certain point. The ability of an individual to choose is directly counter to the ability of a writer to make a statement. The more agency a viewer has, the less granular and intricate can be the writer's statements about the world.

Writing a truly interactive film in the sense above would be like writing a screenplay for a conversation where you don't know what the other person will say.

Of course, you can add small elements of open-world to a closed-world story, or vice versa. You can make one feel like the other by borrowing tropes from one (video game elements in a movie, a cinematic video game, etc.) But you traverse towards the middle of the spectrum at your own peril.

Bandersnatch (and Soderbergh's ""Mosaic"" illustrate the difficulty well: even giving viewers a few choices requires either filming an exponentially increasing number of scenes, or making some of the choices have extremely minimal impact. Neither of these is any kind of holy grail of interactivity.

But all is not lost!!

There are still lots of ways to make something interactive.

1: Hide the seams.

Some elements of your story are fully open-world and others are fully closed-world, and you can't always which ones are which. Create structural conditions in the story which make the closed-world elements harder to influence.
For example: a story about a factory shutting down and a parent who has to get a new job to feed their family. Tell the stories of the factory shutting down through the parent attending meetings, which can't be changed. And then create an earn-another-living subplot with two possible endings based on whether the parent is able to make enough money.

2: Co-creation with the audience.

Rather than see yourself as creating a ""story"", create a ""world."" You control the meta-narrative, and viewers create their own story. Provide opportunities for viewers to project their own experiences onto the story. Perhaps you are changing your story as well to respond to the audience.
For example: create a story about ""the worst airline in the world"" and have people act out their experiences, either fictional or borrowed from real life. Major changes in the arc of the airline can affect the smaller stories.

3: AI filmmaking

Once AI can write and direct movies in response to user behavior, the properties of a closed-world story can be built around user choice. That's a long ways away but it will happen, and this will surely be the holy grail of interactive cinema!

What do you think? Are there other forms of interactivity that I'm missing here?"